A new wave of prescription-grade apps is putting the future of medicine in the palms of patients’ hands.
In the future, we might not have to take time out of our day to visit a doctor or specialist. Have an ailment? Simply switch on your phone, push a button and swipe.
Smartphones and software are becoming intelligent and sophisticated enough to treat and possibly cure disease. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, this new medical landscape of digital therapeutics could turn medical care as we know it on its head. It promises to make specialised treatments more affordable and more accessible for patients, empowering them in the process.
“The first wave of healthcare apps were about physical fitness and I think these paved the way for consumers to get used to using these apps instead of going to the gym, now we have a second wave of consumers getting used to using apps to treat chronic conditions. There is a bigger value creation in digital therapeutics because you can replace very expensive medical treatments. The future is about integrating digital health tools like therapy apps with standard healthcare treatment,” Daniel Månsson, co-founder of Flow, a Swedish start-up behind a medication-free, digital treatment for depression that launched at the beginning of June, tells JWT Intelligence.
Digital wellness is finding a foothold in everything from media platforms to corporate initiatives to mobile video games. In May 2019, Dazed Beauty launched the Digital Spa, a space where readers could watch live-streamed yoga classes and listen to meditative evening podcasts on sleep therapy to re-examine the idea of wellness in 2019.
Companies like Soma Analytics are targeting wellness in the workplace, collating data to produce an app that alleviates work-related stress and increases productivity. Their work for a single, 1,500-employee-firm reduced the firm’s collective sick days by over4,000 hours per year. Even Pokémon is getting in on the wellness game with Pokémon Sleep, an app set to launch in 2020 that rewards players for sleeping and encourages good sleep habits.
With digital wellness being embraced across the board, digital offerings could increasingly replace traditional medical treatments–and companies such as Pear Therapeutics are leading the way. Last year, they were granted FDA approval for a software-therapy that treats alcohol and substance addiction. Still awaiting its FDA approval, another digital medication, Akili Interactive has developed a VR video game to treat ADHD and is working on a game to treat depression in adults. The idea is that the game will eventually be prescribed by doctors to their patients.
Digital health saw a $10 billion investment in 2018 (according to a report by Mercom Capital Group) and it’s no wonder that unicorns such as the meditation behemoth Headspace are also now muscling into the arena. By 2020, the firm hopes to deliver the world’s first prescription meditation app specifically designed to treat a range of stress-related chronic diseases under the umbrella of Headspace Health.
The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease estimates that by 2030, 83 million people in the USA will have three or more chronic health conditions. This economic burden is what digital therapeutic firms hope to ease with their software programs that prevent andtreat medical disorders and diseases, when used in conjunction with traditional medications or therapies.
Kaia is an app that addresses chronic back pain and has (in some cases), outperformed traditional therapy. The app uses your smartphone camera to monitor the user as they perform the app’s prescribed exercises and provides feedback to correct posture and motion.
“Chronic pain patients don’t have many choices. Patients who are desperate might have to wait months to get an appointment with an expensive specialist who might just give them a prescription, but a chronic condition also often requires a mental and behavioral change to see positive results. An app is an empowering and accessible interface that can be used for many years,” Kaia Health founder Konstantin Mehl, who has used his motion-tracking camera technology to launch the world’s first full-body personal training app, tells JWT Intelligence. “With stressful, white-collars jobs we are seeing a rise in more mind-body diseases that require new types of treatment,” explains Mehl.
Depression is one such rapidly increasing disease and the medication-free Flow Depression is made up of a brain stimulation headset and a therapy app that guides the user through positive behavioral changes to their nutrition, sleep, meditation and exercise to improve depression.
“We are excited to be combining the digital space with old medical knowledge and research. Antidepressants have side-effects and we are offering a treatment that you can start in your own home,” says Daniel Månsson.
This indicates an important shift away from the slew of negative conversations around how excessive internet exposure is wreaking havoc on our mental and physical health. As this generation of startups proves, harnessing digital technology to promote both clinical and general wellbeing is increasingly viable and palatable for the modern, connected consumer.